NEW YORK – Teofimo Lopez promised a knockout in the first round and pushed hard for it by unloading on George Kambosos, but the first round ended with the champion on the mat.
Turns out, the drop wasn’t a fluke, but rather a harbinger of things to come Saturday night at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.
Kambosos, the underdog from Australia, survived a takedown in the 10th round to score a split decision victory over Lopez in a big upset to claim the WBO, WBA, IBF and WBC franchise lightweight championship.
One judge scored the fight for Lopez, 114-113, and the other two judges scored it for Kambosos, 115-112 and 115-111.
“I believe in me, he trusted me,” said 28-year-old Kambosos. “I thought, ‘I’m going to hit him hard and take him down,’ and the fight changed that … I’m an incredible fighter; I can’t believe how well I boxed. “
After eight date changes coupled with a positive COVID case from Lopez, numerous stops and starts for a fight that was seen as uneven, a routine title defense for a rising star, it turned into an event of intrigue.
And the fight exceeded anyone’s expectations. After the opening round that concluded with Lopez on the ground, the pair exchanged in an all night firefight.
Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs), of Brooklyn, New York, found his mark with many overhead rights, but so did Kambosos. Surprisingly, Kambosos was the cleanest puncher. He was also the coolest fighter.
Kambosos (20-0, 10 KOs) hit Lopez at the end of Round 4 and took control of the fight. He worked the jab and followed with overhand rights that marked López’s face. When the decision was reached, López’s left eye was bleeding profusely, as was his nose. He also had a wound under his right eye.
Both fighters were taken to a local hospital after the fight, Lopez for two separate cuts to both eyes and Kambosos for dehydration.
Lopez said after the fight: “I don’t care what other people say … I won this fight.”
For Lopez, it was a surprising fall from grace. Just 13 months ago, Lopez shocked future Hall of Famer Vasiliy Lomachenko to claim four lightweight titles in a career-defining victory. The historic victory earned Lopez the No. 7 spot on ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings and apparently put him on the path to stardom.
After the longest period of inactivity of his career, a battle with COVID-19 and all the chaos surrounding the rescheduled fight, Lopez looked lethargic and tired for the final eight rounds on Saturday night.
“They exhausted me all the time,” said Lopez, 24, of his difficulty reaching the 135-pound limit.
Kambosos was ahead on all three scorecards when Lopez dropped him with a hard right hand. In his first championship fight, the Australian staggered but still responded with punches as he tried to regain his balance.
By the time Round 11 rolled around, Kambosos regained his senses. During the championship rounds, Kambosos earned the approval of the judges in four of six possible rounds.
“It wasn’t a big drop,” said Kambosos, who entered ESPN’s No. 9 bout at 135 pounds. “I wanted to feel the power. [Pensé], ‘I’m going to punish him for what he just did to me.’
Both fighters won the best bags of their careers Saturday night: Lopez earned $ 3,178,000 and Kambosos earned $ 1,527,100.
With the victory, Kambosos is now the number one fighter in one of boxing’s strongest divisions. The lightweight is the home of Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, and Joseph Diaz Jr.
It may no longer be Lopez’s home. He said he plans to move up to 140 pounds, and was looking forward to a shot at undisputed champion Josh Taylor.
After Saturday’s loss, it’s unclear where Lopez is headed, but Kambosos’s path is much safer.
“Right now, he’s the boss,” said his promoter, Lou DiBella. “He earned it tonight. It was a [defensa del título] mandatory. There is no rematch clause. We will do what is best in the interests of [George] from a business perspective.
“He’s going to sit down, take a little time off, and enjoy the victory. Then we’re going to find the biggest fight we can do.”